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Sample CDs

With the advent of the sampler came the sample CD. This thriving new industry has thrown up more questions than any other concerning copyright issues. FM contacted Time & Space, one of the biggest sample CD distributors around, for further clarification of your rights when sourcing from sample CD material.

"There has been only one sample from one of our sample CDs where the copyright question was challenged, and that never even made it to court," explains T+S managing director Ed Stratton. "This is because about 95% of our sample CDs contain only original material for which the original purchaser of the sample CD has effectively bought absolute clearance to use them within commercial releases. But, it is best to read the small print on all sample CDs to make sure that they are one of these 95% because there are a lot of developers in the world with different copyrights. In the case of the remaining 5% or so, they do not give you clearance and are basically just sources of inspiration: you use the sounds for ideas and then replace them for commercial release. The samples on these are short and best described as sound effects.

An example of a world-wide hit that appears to have used samples extensively for inspiration is 2 Unlimited's No Limits. Many of the key sounds and vocals are recreated versions of those appearing on a particular sample CD. They recreated the sounds, presumably, to avoid any problems, and therefore made the piece wholly their own.

"It's worth checking with us to make sure that it's not one of the 5% 'grey area' types. But having said that, there have been countless hit records from these grey area products and no comeback at all.

"In the other 95% of cases you are buying the rights to use the samples and that is why sample CDs are expensive. You are not buying the actual sounds, but you can keep any royalties you make by using them commercially. We have had people making a lot of money from royalties of pieces of music that use, say, just two of our samples. They've asked us if they should give us some of their royalties. They don't have to - they paid us upfront when they bought the CD.

"One final point is that even if it is one of the 95% that give absolute musical clearance for the samples, you can't, of course, release the sounds in their original sample form as part of any kind of competitive sound library!"

[ Beginner's Guide to Sampling 5 ]